Collecting the Present: a life on display

When I was growing up in Edinburgh, I absolutely loved visiting the National Museum of Scotland. I grew up on Wester Hailes council estate in Edinburgh, where I was one of very few people of colour in both primary and secondary school. For me, the Museum was a place filled with wonder – a place where I could escape to immerse myself in ideas about history and culture. I spent hours wandering through the galleries, looking at fascinating things and letting my imagination take me across the world.

As an adult, I’m delighted to be included in a display at the Museum. In 2017, I was overwhelmed by the honour of being awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting, the arts and charity. But I struggled with the association with the British Empire (MBE stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire), particularly darker aspects of that past including transatlantic slavery, because of my African roots. After much deliberation, I accepted the award, mainly because of conversations with my mum, who came to Scotland from Nigeria. She helped me see the medal as a reflection of the young people I’ve worked with through Scottish charities.

Eunice's MBE
Eunice’s MBE, awarded for services to broadcasting, the arts and charity.

It makes me proud to know that the medal is on display in the Museum, where people can see it. I hope that it will inspire other people to follow their dreams. For me, the medal is a symbol of people I’ve mentored who experience issues I can relate to and care about. I think of it as a symbol of how much you can achieve, no matter where you come from.

Eunice's story in objects
Eunice’s story in objects.

As well as the MBE itself, other objects on display tell a story about my life. My two school ties document my younger years. An EP of my music, with lyrics inspired by the people of Wester Hailes in Edinburgh where I grew up, reflects my creative work. There’s also a pair of sunglasses from my fashion label. Finally, my book, How to Get into Fashion, completes the display. I’ve worked as a model for many designers, including Prada and Alexander MacQueen, and I wanted to write about my experiences and provide advice for other people like me hoping to break into that world.

Portrait of Eunice by Ioannis Koussertari, with styling by Kim Howells at Rankin’s Hunger Magazine, and hair was by Terry Barber, with creative direction from Olumide Gallery.
Portrait of Eunice by Ioannis Koussertari.

In the portrait on display I’m wearing a fitted blazer by inimitable Scottish designer Pam Hogg, who I have walked for in the past and who has contributed significantly to Scottish fashion. I really felt like the garment had a feel that combined both my Scottish and African heritage.

I believe that art has the ability to transform lives and I hope to set up and run programmes for not just young people but adults in collecting, curating and dealing as I really believe that it could be the perfect opportunity for many to get out of poverty both physically and mentally.

So for me it is really important to have curated this display at the Museum to act as a symbol of what I plan to achieve in the future and indeed what we can do when we come together.

You can see Eunice’s MBE and other objects on display in Scotland: A Changing Nation on Level 6 of the National Museum of Scotland.

In this film, part of our Collecting the Present series, Eunice reflects on her personal journey, and on feeling conflicted about accepting an award that celebrates the British Empire.

Portrait of Eunice: By Ioannis Koussertari, with styling by Kim Howells at Rankin’s Hunger magazine, and hair was by Terry Barber, with creative direction from O.G. Gallery.

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